National Avg. Salary

$136,260 More Salary Data →

Job Growth Rate

5.6% More Growth Data →

Recommended Degree

PhD or Professional Programs & Degrees →

Attributes

  • Deal Making
  • Dependable Daily Workload
  • Fast Paced Career
  • Growing Industry

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A public defender is a government employee appointed by the courts to a defendant who cannot afford an attorney on their own to represent them in court for a criminal case.  The public defenders job is to represent and provide a defense to the defendant to the best of their abilities in court.

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Job Description

The following responsibilities are common for Public Defenders:

  • Meet with clients and conducts interviews
  • Interrogates clients and witnesses
  • Drafts and dictates legal documents like motions, orders and subpoenas
  • Gathers information and and evidence regarding the defendant and the pending case
  • Conducts mediations and depositions regarding the pending case

A Day In The Life

If an individual finds that they are in indigent and in need of an attorney, it is a requirement of the state to provide that individual with representation, and that attorney is known as a public defender.   A public defenders job is to provide competent counsel and defense to those individuals that cannot afford to pay for an attorney themselves.

Their job includes, but is not limited to, representing an accused individual during criminal court proceedings.  They represent their clients in all court proceedings and hearing leading up to trial.  They handle pre-trial discovery, withdraw pleas and suppress motions and evidence.  They also attend conferences and meetings with judges and district attorneys to try to negotiate lesser charges and plea deals for their clients.

They will also conduct extensive research to prepare for their cases and assist their clients with finding them innocent of pending charges.  During this research they will conduct interviews of witnesses, attend police line-ups, examine evidence like DNA, fingernail scrapings, blood and urine testing.  They also participate in jury selection, make opening and closing statements to the jury during trial, present evidence, and conduct any other necessary legal research to prepare for trial.

Projected Job Growth

As the poverty levels continue to rise in the United States, so does the criminal element.  It is every American’s constitutional right to have competent legal representation, and if those individuals cannot afford an attorney then one is appointed to them, this is their right.  Therefore, the need for public defenders will be always increasing and in consistent need.

Typical Work Schedule

This is a typical full-time, 40 hour plus work week.  Depending on an individuals case load this position may require longer hours with some travel required.

Typical Employers

This is a government based position.  Public defenders typically work for the state that they are practicing law in.  Legal aid agencies and public interest law groups will also hire public defenders.

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Public Defender Salary Data

We've provided you the following to learn more about this career. The salary and growth data on this page comes from recently published Bureau of Labor Statistics data while the recommendations and editorial content are based on our research.

National Annual Salary

Low Range

$76,300

Average

$136,260

High Range

---

National Hourly Wage

Low Range

$37/hr

Average

$66/hr

High Range

---

How do Public Defender salaries stack up to other jobs across the country? Based on the latest jobs data nationwide, Public Defender's can make an average annual salary of $136,260, or $66 per hour. On the lower end, they can make $76,300 or $37 per hour, perhaps when just starting out or based on the state you live in.

Salary Rankings And Facts

  • #22 Nationally for All Careers

  • Above Average Salary Nationally

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How To Become

In order to become a public defender, a student must first acquire a four year undergraduate degree, ideally in criminal justice, government or business management.  Their legal education should focus on skills like defense and  evidence.  Students must then complete the LSAT in the state that they want to practice law in.  This tests the students skills in critical thinking, reading and analytical questioning skills.   Admission to law school is extremely competitive and requires excellent grades in the undergraduate program and on the LSAT exams.

Law school then requires three years of study from the student. During the first year, students learn basic law subjects like, property, tort and constitutional law.  The second and third year are dedicated to elective classes and internships to assist the student attain where they would like to concentrate their primary focus of the type of law that they want practice.

Learning will continue after a student completes law school.  Most jurisdictions and states require individuals complete education in indigent defense strategies.  They also require individuals to take continuing education courses.  An aloted amount of hours must be completed each year.


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Quick Summary

  • Recommended Min. Degree

    PhD or Professional

Programs and Degrees

Here are the most common degrees for becoming a Public Defender. a PhD or Professional is usually recommended and specifically a degree or coursework that prepares you for the particular field, see below.

Highest Education Among Public Defender

  • 91%   Doctorate
  • 4.1%   Masters
  • 3.5%   Bachelors
  • 0.5%   Associates
  • 0.4%   College
  • 0.4%   High School
  • 0.1%   Less than High School

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Job Growth Projections and Forecast

2014 Total Jobs

778,700

2024 Est. Jobs

822,500

Job Growth Rate

5.6%

Est. New Jobs

43,800

How does Public Defender job growth stack up to other jobs across the country? By 2024, there will be a change of 43,800 jobs for a total of 822,500 people employed in the career nationwide. This is a 5.6% change in growth over the next ten years, giving the career a growth rate nationwide of Above Average.

Growth Rankings And Facts

  • #401 Nationally for All Careers

  • Above Avg. Growth Nationally

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What Companies Employ The Most Public Defenders

Industry Current Jobs New Jobs Needed % Increase
Legal services 376,100 22,100 22%
Self-employed workers 165,500 -1,800 -2%
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 55,600 5,300 5%

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